- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Senate’s top leader Wednesday proposed reducing the number of days lawmakers meet each year, saying it would save millions of dollars each year and entice a broader range of people to run for the General Assembly.

Senate President Robert Stivers took to the Senate floor to promote his bill, which seeks to amend the Kentucky Constitution to revamp the legislative calendar. The measure would go on the November ballot for Kentucky voters to decide if it clears the legislature.

In his Senate speech, Stivers said lawmakers “need to lead by example” at a time when they are considering another round of budget cuts. The Manchester Republican estimated his proposal would save the state about $7 million each year.

“I’ve had many members come up to me saying this is returning back to a true citizen legislature,” he said.

The current schedule discourages some people from running for the General Assembly because they can’t afford to be away from work for sessions that last so long, Stivers said. For example, more educators used to serve as lawmakers, he said.

“Differing people can’t come up here and afford to keep their jobs,” he said.

His proposal would limit sessions in even-numbered years to 45 days.

Under his proposed timetable, lawmakers in those years would convene for five days in early January for organizational matters and to start introducing legislation. They would take an extended break until early February, when they would reconvene for the final 40 days lasting until April 15.

Sessions in even-numbered years now last 60 days and are highlighted by work on the state’s two-year budget.

In odd-numbered years, lawmakers could meet up to 15 days. Those sessions now last 30 days.

Under his scenario, lawmakers would meet for five days in early January, and then would have the option of extending the session for up to 10 more days. Or they could wrap up their work after those five days and still have 10 more days they could meet any other time during the year.

It would be up to House and Senate leaders to decide whether they wanted the legislature to reconvene at a later time, Stivers said. Legislative leaders would set the agenda but would need to reach consensus to get their work done in such a short time, he said.

“It forces cooperation between the two chambers and the executive branch,” he said.

Stivers emphasized that his proposal would not infringe on a governor’s ability to call lawmakers into special sessions.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo later said he had not been briefed on the proposal but said he would keep an open mind. He said it’s an issue that needs to be discussed because it’s become increasingly difficult for people from some walks of life to serve in the General Assembly.

“If we’re going to retain the makeup of a part-time, citizen legislature, then we’re going to have to make it easier for citizens in today’s world to be able to actually serve,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

That could be accomplished by having more four-day work weeks during sessions, allowing lawmakers to have extended weekends at home to catch up on their work, he said. That would require sessions to actually run longer if the length of sessions remained the same, he said.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 195.

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